Whilst some things in life are inevitable – death, taxes, and Oldest Son sleeping until 3pm on a Saturday – others are far less likely – things like winning the lottery, Youngest Daughter agreeing with me, or Boris Johnson saying “Ahhh, fuck this, the EU’s amazing actually”. After months of non-communication, I’d long since filed the possibility of E replying to one of my emails in the latter category.
The last contact I’d had from him was in November. The last time he replied to anybody about anything was his response to my solicitor in January. Since then he’s disappeared. Nobody has heard a word from him. His parents have written to him (I think they sent an actual letter, but I think they emailed too), I’ve sent several, increasingly anxious, emails, and the CMS, the Secured Loan Company and even the Secured Loan Company’s third party collection agents have all been trying to contact him for months, but nobody has heard anything. In fact, the only reason I’ve had any confidence that he’s still alive was based on the fact that he was still texting the boys and from the fact that they confirmed that they had definitely seen their Dad in person when the taxi sent for them got them to the station.
Anyway (as will be proudly boasted about in a post yet to come), Oldest Daughter is currently in New York – doing an immersive course in Greek – until the end of August. She won a scholarship for her fees, but I have had to find (borrow) the funds to pay for her flights, health insurance, accommodation and living expenses whilst she’s out there (I didn’t even bother asking E if he wanted to help support her). All was going well, until three weeks into the trip, she got poorly and had to go to hospital to be checked out. After various tests and appointments she was given the all clear and all was well (apart from how scared she was – this all happened in the evening, and I was asleep, which meant she couldn’t talk to me about what was happening). But it cost her $500 which she had to pay up front.
I am now at the point where the only money I have available is for food. But Oldest Daughter has even less – she’s fending for herself with minimal funds in another country – and she was more concerned and frightened about the money she’d had to spend than she was about her health. After staring at my accounts for half an hour, I decided to transfer the last £400 I had to her and to give contacting E one last chance.
My email was brief, to the point, and probably a bit more sarcastic than it should have been:
“Oldest Daughter had to go to hospital in New York last night. She’s ok, but it cost her $500. She has travel insurance, so she can claim it back, but she had to pay there and then.
I’ve transferred £400 to her account to cover the costs plus prescriptions etc.
That’s £400 that I can’t afford because you haven’t paid me any child maintenance for eight months (I’m assuming you’re not intending to pay anything in July either?). If you have any decency left in you at all, please at least contribute towards your daughter’s healthcare.
I gather you’re taking the boys skiiing this weekend? Perhaps you could spend what you’re going to spend on them on Oldest Daughter too?
Anything would help. She’s on her own there, with extremely limited funds (I could only give her the bare minimum towards rent and living costs) and because of the situation you’ve put us in, she’s extremely anxious about money. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for her, I don’t want worrying about money to spoil it for her.
Oh, and, Youngest Son needs a haircut, perhaps you could get that done this weekend? In your letter to **** you made much of the fact that ‘in addition’ to paying me maintenance and for the secured loan you had also paid for haircuts. Now you’re paying neither, perhaps a haircut isn’t too much to ask?”
As I pressed ‘send’ I assumed it would disappear in to the same void that all my other attempts at communication had disappeared into. I nearly fell off my chair when I got an ACTUAL REPLY just a few hours later.
His reply was predictably cold and horribly reflective of the fact that he just doesn’t care about how his actions are affecting his children. It was disturbingly disconnected, displaying no idea about and, even worse, no interest in how his children were managing without his financial support:
“You will shortly receive my monthly contribution through Child Maintenance. As such, please refrain from asking for further money, either directly or through the children. The monthly amount they are taking covers all costs, including haircuts, clothing, housing and anything else that might arise.
This also means that any extras that I continue to pay will have to stop with immediate effect as the amount transferred through child maintenance covers my contribution to this. I assume the children would all prefer to keep their current phones and contracts, so will be contacting Vodafone to see how we transfer these to you. If I don’t hear from you by the end of the week I will assume you do not wish to carry on the contracts and I will cancel them as I can no longer afford this.
I am also unable to contribute towards more significant things such as school trips. In the future contributing 50% to such things may be possible, but not at present. And to be clear, I cannot pay anything towards the mortgages other than what is being paid to you through Child Maintenance.
As referred to above, there is no overall sustainable solution moving forward unless the house is sold and the equity split. There is no money on my side to contribute towards repairs etc so it will need to be sold in its current condition and as soon as possible.
In addition to the above, I am now in the financial position where I have no money at all and as such will have to cancel seeing the children this weekend. Going forward, I am unlikely to be able to see them more than once a month until the house is sold, and even then it will be something low cost for the foreseeable future and I will discuss this with them.”
The more I read it, the more bizarre I found it. His petulant order to ‘refrain from asking for further money either directly or through the children’ made me laugh out loud. All I’ve ever asked for is for him to pay what he was legally obliged to pay. I could have funded Oldest Daughter’s entire New York trip (plus a fair few haircuts, house repairs and maybe even some extra food) from the £9,000 or so maintenance payment arrears he owes me. I’ve also never asked the kids to ask him for money. They may well have taken it upon themselves to ask (for example, whilst it remains a classic family favourite, Youngest Daughter’s beautiful text to him of 2018 that began ‘Yo fucknut!’ and asked him to help with Oldest Daughter’s rent, was entirely her own glorious creation), but I’ve never asked them to contact him.
Whilst much of what he said made me smile grimly at his skewed conception of reality, the fact that he refers to his children as ‘taking’ his money just made me sad. He is the father of four amazing children, but he’s only paying maintenance for two of them. The boys are also the only two kids who loyally keep in contact with him and see him whenever he deigns to visit them. The fact that he resents supporting them, to the extent that he sees them as ‘taking’ from him, is a new low, even for him.
Whilst inevitable, his threat to cancel the phone contracts represents his final step in his disengaging entirely from his old life. Oldest Daughter and Youngest Daughter have pay as you go sim cards, so they won’t be affected. The two who will lose their phones are the boys. At the moment, E only contacts them by text, so I’m intrigued to know how he intends to arrange seeing them when he cancels their phone contracts? I’ll keep an eye out for carrier pigeons and smoke signals when the boys’ phones die.
Apart from showing just how distant and disengaged from his children E has become, the other thing that his claim to have no money prompted was astonishment at how on earth he has got himself into such a financial mess? In December 2016 he told me he owed £30,000 on credit cards and £30,000 in loans. As a result of the two cash-in-lieu-of-shares payments he received in Dec 2016 and Dec 2017 he was given the money he needed to pay these off. Even though he had a pay cut a couple of years ago, he’s still on the kind of salary most people could only dream of. So how on earth is he now so in debt that he can’t afford *anything*? How did it happen? Where did it go? What did he spend it on? It’s absolutely insane. I know he’s got a new wife to show off to (and I’m guessing there’s been lots of showing off), I know a Florida wedding and a flat in Canary Wharf don’t come cheap, but he’s only been gone two years. How on earth has he almost bankrupted himself in that time?
I don’t know, maybe he hasn’t? Maybe he’s not broke? As someone pointed out to me the other day – E hasn’t exactly got a good track record in the Truth Telling department – maybe he’s lying about his financial situation too? Although, having known him for so long, I sort of doubt it. I suspect E being overwhelmed by debt has been inevitable since he got his first overdraft. Mind you, I’m willing to bet that he and P aren’t fretting over the cost of a loaf of bread or realising that fresh fruit is a bit of a luxury. They’re not concerned about making the weekly shop stretch to include a packed lunch for Youngest Son and sanitary towels for Youngest Daughter. I’m guessing that E’s definition of ‘nothing’ is slightly looser than mine.
All I know is that his email, and his subsequent cancelling of his planned trip to see the boys, has really hurt Youngest Son. The day after I got the email, he sent me a copy of the text his Dad sent him:
“Sorry about this but as your mum might have told you by now I have a big financial problem and I am going to have to spend some time trying to solve it meaning I am not going to be able to come this weekend at all.
And I don’t know how long it is going to continue…”
Youngest Son turned 13 at the beginning of June, and so, far hasn’t had so much as a card from his Dad. This is the child that hero-worshiped E. It’s horrible watching him get hurt and grow more disillusioned with him.
However, whilst his reply brought home to me how little E cares about us. It also made me realise afresh that, in the midst of all the financial crisis management stuff that I’m dealing with, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that the most important people in all of this are the four kids who are hurt by everything that has happened (ok, Oldest Daughter is 20 now, but she hurts too). Their welfare and well-being is so much more important than my self-righteous anger or E’s colossal ego.
It made me take time to observe my children and see how they are coping with what’s happening and to try and reassure them that, even though we can’t afford anything now, we’ll be ok, that I’ll make sure we’re ok. Cold and heartless as E’s email to me was, it actually led to a moment where I focused sharply on what what’s important. It made me breathe and take stock. If possible, it made me love my children more than ever and made me step aside from spending my evenings staring at my accounts and trying to make financial sense of the future, and instead spend an evening snuggled on the sofa with Youngest Son watching Designated Survivor and The Umbrella Academy. His email might have been designed to hurt and provoke, but actually it’s led to a new perspective and a kind of peace (and lots and lots of hugs from Youngest Son).
If E replying to an email was on my list of unlikely things, it’s led to something even more unlikely – me being almost grateful to E. I honestly never saw that coming.